Hello From The Gillespies
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Every year on December the first, Angela Gillespie has sat down to write a letter that she sends out to friends and family. She’s been doing this since she married thirty-three years ago and over the years the list of people has grown to encompass about 100. The mode of delivery has changed now, with email allowing it to be sent all around the world at the touch of a button.
But this year, Angela is having writers block. Instead of the light, breezy letter outlining their achievements and the highlights, Angela finds the truth spilling out – how her husband Nick barely talks to her now and spends his days Skyping someone named Carol from Ireland about genealogy. How her twin daughters, into their thirties now, are having difficulties in personal and professional lives. Her third daughter has recently moved back home with a large amount of debt and now follows Angela around the house crying. And how she worries that her youngest son, who is just 10 is well, a little weird.
Angela never intends to send this letter, which was like a kind of therapy however a family emergency means that she has to rush out. In her haste she leaves the letter sitting open on her computer and her husband Nick, who hasn’t bothered to read it for years, comes in and sends it for her so that it will still go out on December 1st. And that simple act begins a chain of events that will affect the entire Gillespie family.
Hello From The Gillespies is the newest novel from Monica McInerney and I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I read her last book, The House of Memories. I’ve read most of her books and have enjoyed them all and each time a new one arrives is exciting.
Although I’ve never sent a Christmas letter like Angela’s, I’ve received plenty over the years and I admit to reading the first few and then tossing them aside because often they read like a lengthy brag of overachieving distant family members that no one can ever possibly live up to. However I could definitely understand Angela’s frustration and her desire to tell the truth at a time when very little in their family seemed to be going right. We’ve all had those thoughts, secret thoughts about loved ones when they are driving us mad! And I can imagine that it would’ve felt extremely cathartic to pour it all out through the keyboard as it seems that Angela keeps a lot of things bottled up inside her. She hasn’t really tried to discuss their marital issues with Nick: his distance, the problems the farm has experienced in recent drought times and the steps he has taken to attempt to remedy them, which Angela doesn’t agree with, as well as his obsession with tracing his family tree and pouring a lot of time and money into paying Carol, a woman in Ireland, to help him research. Nick and Carol spend hours Skyping and it seems that Nick locks himself away in the study to avoid everyday life.
Angela also seeks to escape the realities of life not going very well by living out an extensive fantasy life in her head. She dreams of marrying her first boyfriend and the glamorous life they lead in London. Angela is English, she came to Australia on a holiday, met Nick in a bar in Sydney and then stayed, visiting his extensive property in South Australia and then marrying him. At times life has been hard, such as it always is on the land and Angela escapes the woes of the farm and her somewhat needy children by fantasising about a different life, a cleaner, less cluttered life with a perfect husband and one perfect and thoughtful daughter. And once again, I think it isn’t a stretch to identify with this either – I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer, conjuring up different life scenarios (although unlike Angela, I don’t return to the same fantasy, mine are generally different each time. As a kid it’s how I learned to go to sleep myself, by telling stores/fantasies in my head).
Without giving much away, I found what happens to Angela after it’s revealed that the wrong letter has been sent out, very interesting. It was something that would make life quite difficult and the family seemed really, to cope remarkably well with the possible exception of Nick. For me, Nick wasn’t a character that I thought could’ve been given more. He spent so much time wallowing away in the study and dreaming of this big expensive tour to Ireland to research other Gillespies and seek a suitable place to hold a family reunion. Unfortunately for Nick, I could see what was coming a mile away but it doesn’t appear to have entered anyone else’s head, so intent were they on teasing him about his Irish “girlfriend”. I found the three eldest Gillespie children a bit painful. The twins are my age and yet seemed to act like they were a good decade younger and their sister Lindy is whiny and prone to tantrums similar to my 3yo. However the family dynamics were amazing – the bond between the twins, the resentment and jealousy of the younger sister who wants to be part of it and their indulgence of their much younger brother.
Hello From The Gillespies is an intriguing portrayal of family relationships – the decades old marriage slowly buckling under the weight of secrets and lack of communication, sibling rivalries and how ultimately, none of that comes to matter when tragedy strikes. It’s about coming together as a family to fight and having each other’s backs. It’s written with McInerney’s usual deft touch and lovely storytelling that makes the 500+p disappear.
Book #197 of 2014
Hello From The Gillespies is book #74 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014